Madonna’s “Live to Tell” Lyrics Meaning

“Live to Tell” is a song which is very metaphorical in its approach. Part of the reason would likely be that it was inspired by a few different sources. For instance, Madonna’s real life, i.e. her relationship with her parents, comes into play. Then there are also fictitious stories which she came upon from time to time, such as her citing the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald in that regard.  And there’s also the movie entitled “At Close Range” (1986), which the lyrics of this track were specifically designed, to some extent, to conform to.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Madonna's Live to Tell at

Madonna has a “Tale to Tell”

At the beginning of the track, the songstress introduces herself as a character that has “a tale to tell”. However, such is one of her life’s secrets. Thus even though keeping it inside, it is obviously having an emotional toll on her, she is not privy to revealing this story.

And at the foundation of this internal disturbance is something along the lines of her being deceived in the past. The way the chorus reads, she suffered this deceit at the hands of a loved one. And whereas once again keeping this in is ‘burning’ her inside, she does not have the wherewithal at the present moment to let this “secret” out.

Second Verse

Thus the second verse is based on the songstress insisting that even though she has to constantly deal with this inner turmoil, she is still a ‘beautiful’ and ‘warm’ person. So it may be implied that this secret is negatively affecting her personality and as a result her interpersonal relationships and the way people perceive her. However, what seems to be more to the point is Madonna insisting that this particular hardship, as harrowing as it has been, did not affect her intrinsic good qualities.


So basically, this scenario is presented as one that the narrator is going to have to deal with for life. Or rather, if she ever gets to the point where she feels comfortable letting her secret out, then she will do so. But for now someone has hurt her significantly via his deception. And what she has taken away from that experience is the knowledge that some people truly have the ability to lie very effectively.

Music Video

In the music video to “Live to Tell”, which had James Foley as its director, Madonna sported a look reminiscent of the mid-20th century beauty queen Marilyn Monroe.

Release Date of “Live to Tell”

“Live to Tell” first came out as part of Madonna’s third album entitled “True Blue”. It was the lead single from the project, being released on 26 March 1986.

And being one of the Queen of Pop’s big hits it was subsequently featured on a few of her compilation projects, including “The Immaculate Collection” in 1990.

FYI, the working title of Madonna’s “True Blue” album was originally “Live to Tell”.

Chart Success

“Live to Tell” topped the Billboard Hot 100 and also peaked at number 2 in Britain (the official UK Singles Chart). And in virtually all of the 15 countries in which it charted, it made it onto the top 10.

“Live to Tell” has also been certified Silver in France and the UK.

Who wrote “Live to Tell”?

The co-writers and co-producers of this song are Patrick Leonard and of course Madonna. 

Film Usage

It was Leonard who first conceptualized it to be used for the soundtrack of a movie, specifically a film called “Fire with Fire” that came out in 1986. But eventually it ended up being used for another film released that same year entitled “At Close Range” which actor Sean Penn, whom Madonna was married to at the time, starred in.

Notable Live Performances of “Live to Tell”

The first time Madonna performed this song live was during the mid-1980s at an AIDS’ charity concert in NYC. However, her most-notable live rendition of “Live to Tell” was the show she put on during her Confessions Tour in 2006.  It was again an AIDS-related performance though this time reliant heavily on Catholic imagery. For example, the songstress was depicted hanging from a cross and wearing a crown of thorns. Moreover some of the images used could even be interpreted as her somehow postulating that the AIDS pandemic (in Africa) had something to do with the Church.

This of course did not go unnoticed by the Catholics, with many prominent ones condemning the Queen of Pop’s performance. Indeed Madonna even faced backlash from some Muslim and Jewish organizations as a result and almost was sued on the grounds of blasphemy.

And in response the Queen of Pop has stated, someone sarcastically, that her reason for using such imagery was actually to give a shoutout to Jesus and his philosophies, which “the Christians didn’t like”.

3 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to tell you but the secret “she” hides is the same one that kept the Go-Go’s lips sealed. LMFAO! Look up EGI.

  2. MJ says:

    She was at her height of fab career, original daring and so much more, she was bigger than life and so many have tried to be like her

  3. Anonymous says:

    Something about this song….its lyrics….its melody…..its instrumentation resonates with me although I have not figured out what that is. Or maybe I too have a secret, but then again don’t we all. LOL

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